A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
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DRIVING THE NAT’L DISCUSSION – POLL FINDS DROP IN UNINSURE RATE via Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that the uninsured rate for U.S. adults dropped by 1.2 percentage points in January, to 16.1 percent. … [T]he Gallup numbers could be the first evidence that core provisions of Obama’s … law have started delivering on … access for nearly all Americans. The overall drop in the uninsured rate would translate to approximately 2 million to 3 million people gaining coverage.
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CNN TARGETS RICK SCOTT IN REPORT ON PAY-TO-PLAY POLITICSvia Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times
CNN devoted nearly 15 minutes in prime time to a report on what anchor Anderson Cooper called “the extortion game” of pay-to-play politics — and a case study in the piece was Gov. Rick Scott.
Reporter Drew Griffin did a “pay up or else” piece on the endless practice of Washington politicians soliciting money from lobbyists, and a former Shell Oil executive repeatedly used the word “extortion.” Even though the piece was D.C.-centric, Scott was featured at the beginning and the end. The report focused on a November K Street fund-raiser for Scott’s soft-money committee, Let’s Get to Work, where the price of admission was $2,500 (for $10,000, donors could have a photo-op with Scott).
The host of that Scott fund-raiser, CNN reported, was The Principi Group, a D.C. lobbying firm headed by Anthony Principi, a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, who in 2012 landed a $1.8 million contract with the state to safeguard Florida military bases from closures. The Principi Group has donated $10,000 to Let’s Get to Work.
“It’s all just a coincidence,” Griffin said, his voice fairly dripping with sarcasm.
Scott was shown at a Cabinet meeting, blandly deflecting questions about the money. “You’ll have to talk to Let’s Get to Work,”he said. CNN then quoted the Republican Party of Florida as saying: “Gov. Scott makes all decisions based on what is best for the people of Florida and what will create jobs, careers and opportunities for its citizens.”
DEMOCRATS: WEBSITE WOES UNDERSCORE SCOTT’S LACK OF LEADERSHIP via Matt Dixon of the Florida Times-Union
Florida’s flawed unemployment website underscores Gov. Scott’s failure to lead, according to a trio of top Democrats Thursday during a call with reporters.
Since launching in October, the CONNECT website has been riddled with errors. Specifically, continuing unemployment claims that have been flagged for review – a process known as “adjudication” – have been stuck in gridlock.
“We need to have the governor make a statement…take a leadership position,” said Democratic House Minority Leaders Perry Thurston. “He is not talking to the people.”
The Department of Economic Opportunity, which runs the website and is overseen by Scott’s office, has put out daily updates, but Scott has been largely quiet on the issue.
In response to the protracted problems, Scott has started fining the website vendor, Deloitte Consulting, $15,000 daily and withheld a $3 million payment from the company.
“Rick Scott has never suggested the original website contractor be fired … he has demanded no change, he has taken no responsibility,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant.
In response, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry issued a statement questioning President Barack Obama’s leadership.
“Instead of making specious attacks, Allison Tant and Perry Thurston should follow Governor Scott’s lead and ask their own party’s president to use his executive authority to stop flood insurance rate hikes that are hurting Florida families,” he wrote.
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APPOINTED: Sarah Goldman to the Governor’s Commission on Jobs for Floridians with Disabilities.
APPOINTED: Michael Houston and Toby Overdorf to the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, Region 10.
TWEET, TWEET: Be the first to know December’s jobs numbers … at 10am by following @FLGovScott!
SCOTT: SPEND $30 MILLION ON WORKER TRAINING via Steve Bousquet and Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald
Gov. Scott was in Jacksonville Thursday promoting yet another aspect of his “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget.”
Scott wants the Legislature to allocate $30 million next year for a new workforce training initiative focusing on careers related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) occupations. He made the announcement at Greencore USA, a company that makes convenience foods. The firm plans to expand its Jacksonville-area work force in the coming years.
Scott’s proposal includes taxpayer-funded scholarships for students seeking training in STEM-related fields at a Florida state college or post-secondary vocational center. Many credentials necessary for eligible in-demand careers can be obtained in two years or less.
Scott will propose the next state budget next Wednesday in Tallahassee in conjunction with the annual AP planning seminar for reporters and editors. A governor’s budget recommendations mark a starting point in negotiations with the Legislature, which writes the final budget.
The Workforce State Training Program mirrors similar programs in economic competitor states and provides Florida a competitive advantage in attracting new business as well as retaining workers at existing Florida companies.
SCOTT PLUG FOR FLORIDA EVER READY – EVEN WHEN QUESTIONED ABOUT JUSTIN BIEBER’S ARREST via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post
Gov. Scott, known for answering almost any question with a plug for economic development, responded to a query about Justin Bieber’s Miami Beach arrest with a reference to Florida’s tourism statistics.
“Here’s the nice thing: People want to come to our state. We’ve had record tourism numbers, it looks like again last year. So people want to come to our state, basically they like all parts of our state. But if you come here you’ve got to comply with the law,” Scott said when a reporter asked for a comment on Bieber’s arrest.
TWEET, TWEET: @FLGovScott: Looking fwd talking w @seanhannity tonight abt why he shd take a one-way ticket to FL
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EMAIL INSIGHTS – PRESSURE IS ON FOR CHARLIE CRIST
Supporters must be feeling rising stress levels in the Crist gubernatorial campaign. If they do not already, they certainly will, especially after reading Crist’s newest email — called “Alarming News.”
The message starts by citing new polling that has Gov. Scott closing the gap with front-runner Crist to “just two points.”
It should come as little surprise, Crist continues, since Scott’s “Let’s Get to Work” PAC so far raised $28 million from a group of “lobbyists and shadowy billionaires dead set on obscuring the facts and smearing (Crist’s) record.”
With a “Tea Party agenda,” Scott is hurting the economy, schools and the environment.
Crist needs you to fight back — even if it is just $10.
The fight is on, to unite Floridians, so everyone can get a “fair shake,” not just the wealthy.
For Crist, every little bit of effort — donating, attending rallies or simply spreading the word — is appreciated.
He is asking for help, more now than ever, because the pressure is on.
TWEET, TWEET: @SunshineEmpire: GOP ’06: “Crist is our nominee for governor.” GOP ’10: “Crist is really a Pelosi Democrat.” GOP ’14 “Crist isn’t really a Democrat.”
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SUNBURN EXCLUSIVE — CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE PAIGE KREEGEL STIFFED CONSULTANT, LAWSUIT ALLEGES
When Paige Kreegel announced that he would be challenging Trey Radel for his congressional seat, the former state representative declared that Southwest Florida voters should expect a “congressman without distractions, a congressman they can trust.”
A political consultant who worked on Kreegel’s failed bid for Congress in 2012 says Kreegel is anything but.
“While Paige is exploiting Congressman Radel’s recent problems as a platform to hold himself up as a paragon of virtue, he is quite the opposite,” says California-based consultant Jason Roe, whose firm Revolvis counts congressman Jeff Miller of Florida, Illinois Peter Roskam, and Michigan’s Fred Upton among its clients. “Our firm’s experience with Paige revealed behavior that we believe disqualifies him from office.”
In a lawsuit filed in the Twentieth Circuit Court (Charlotte County), Roe alleges Kreegel’s campaign owes his firm, Revolvis Consulting, $52,262.63 from unpaid bills invoiced during 2012.
The money owed to Revolvis, the suit alleges, is for services such as television production costs, which Kreegel paid to air on TV; and mail production costs, which Kreegel paid the postage to mail. Most of the money owed to Revolvis is for payments the firm made to third-party vendors.
Roe writes in an email that he’s now aware that Kreegel “was subject to several lawsuits personally and professionally, including one in which he failed to pay a consultant from a previous campaign.”
“We should’ve paid more attention,” said Roe.
Roe also alleges in a complaint with the Federal Election Commission that Kreegel directed his treasurer, Charlotte County Tax Collector Vickie Potts, to file illegal disclosure forms which do not itemize those monies due, as required by federal law.
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SCRUTINY CALLED FOR IN $52 MILLION FL CORRECTIONS FOOD BIDS
Five food suppliers entered bids Wednesday for a $52 million per year contract through Florida’s Department of Corrections: Sysco, US Foods, Cheney Brothers, All American Poly, and Eastern Foods. But there’s a problem, or actually, quite a few. Two of these companies are likely to merge. Both of them have had to settle with governments due to contracts and pricing mismanagement. And both are looking at ways to move contract-related distribution jobs out of Florida.
If Sysco completes its planned $3.5 billion purchase of US Foods, the nation’s two biggest food distributors would be merged. Together, these two food giants would hold about $65 billion in annual revenue, which is five times higher than their next-biggest rival. This alone ought to give Florida’s Department of Corrections (DOC) cause for concern with selecting either of the distributors. The state should see view this merger with the same trepidation as do restaurateurs around the country. But, as noted, there’s more.
Just a month ago, on Dec. 18, New York reached a $330,000 settlement with US Foods over alleged violations of contracts with state and local institutions. New York’s attorney general claimed that US Foods failed to pass on discounts to public purchasers beginning in 2009. One month prior to that, a Sysco subsidiary paid a $4.2 million settlement over allegations that it charged too much to the military for fresh produce — markups that increased food prices by 30 to 40 percent. Two years previous, Sysco paid a $30 million civil settlement under allegations that it had used shell companies to artificially bump food prices to the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs.
In all of these cases, Sysco and US Foods have admitted no wrongdoing. In each of the cases, the food giants claim their actions were within contracted terms. But when Florida procures $52 million per year in a product, confidence in vendors should be a little better than … that.
Florida should also do right by the governor and legislature’s intent: to contract with companies committed to keeping and growing jobs in this state. Sysco and US Foods have other plans.Prior to placing its bid Wednesday, Sysco asked the Department of Corrections whether it would be allowed to use operating companies in Alabama and Mississippi as its delivery agent.
FLORIDA SEARCHES FOR COMMON GROUND ON TRAUMA CARE RULES via Tia Mitchell of the Tampa Bay Times
The fight over who gets to operate Florida’s trauma centers is far from over, but a marathon negotiating session Thursday identified some common ground the Department of Health says it will use to revise a proposed rule for granting new centers.
Long-established trauma centers have tried to limit the proliferation of new ones, which has led to dozens of legal and administrative challenges.
Many of the new trauma centers are at hospitals owned by the powerful for-profit chain HCA.
Both sides have criticized portions of the Department of Health’s proposal, which uses a point system and a handful of criteria to determine if new trauma centers are warranted.
Thursday’s negotiation session was intended to help build a consensus among stakeholders so the DOH could finalize its rule before an April 1 application deadline for new trauma centers.
“I don’t think we’re that far off,” DOH general counsel Jennifer Tschetter said at the end of the seven-hour discussion.
The group agreed that population, the number of severely injured patients who are treated in emergency rooms instead of trauma centers and the existence of other nearby trauma centers are all factors to include in the new criteria.
But the meeting was full of disagreement and debate about other parts of the new rule, such as a requirement that new trauma centers be at least 5 miles from existing ones.
EXCLUSIVE VIDEO FROM THE TRAUMA DRAMA here
WATCHDOG: RED LIGHT BRIBE SCANDAL COULD BE WIDESPREAD via David Kidwell of the South Florida Sun Sentinel
A fired executive of Chicago’s beleaguered red light camera company alleges in a lawsuit that Redflex Traffic Systems doled out bribes and gifts at “dozens of municipalities” in 13 other states and says he is cooperating in an ongoing federal investigation.
The explosive allegations, accompanied by few specifics, suggest investigators may be examining Redflex’s business practices around the country in the wake of the company’s admission last year that its flagship camera program in Chicago was likely built on a $2 million bribery scheme.
Aaron Rosenberg, who was the company’s top national salesman, said in a civil defamation claim against Redflex that he was made a “scapegoat” to cover up a long-standing practice of “providing government officials with lavish gifts and bribes” after the Tribune began asking questions about the Chicago contract.
The scandal prompted the company to jettison six of its top executives. One of them was Rosenberg, the company’s former executive vice president. In its lawsuit, Redflex accused Rosenberg of a “protracted and covert scheme” to misappropriate company funds.
Rosenberg said that during his tenure Redflex “bestowed gifts and bribes on company officials in dozens of municipalities within, but not limited to the following states: California, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia.”
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EMAIL I DIDN’T OPEN – “Former Florida State Representative Faye Culp Endorses…” Really, Faye Culp?
EXPRESSWAY AUTHORITY OFFERS PRECOURT MONTH-TO-MONTH DEAL via Dan Tracy of the Orlando Sentinel
Orlando’s toll-road agency offered a former state representative a month-to-month contract as its top manager on Wednesday, less than a week after State Attorney Jeff Ashton asked them to postpone the action.
But it was unclear whether ex-Rep. Steve Precourt would accept the deal. He has until 5 p.m. Friday to decide.
The vote by the five-member board of the Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority was 3-2, with Scott Batterson and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs in the minority, though for different reasons.
Jacobs said Precourt should not get the post because he was not as qualified as other candidates the board interviewed. Batterson argued Precourt should have been given the five-year agreement he previously negotiated with the agency officials.
Precourt, who had been working at the agency for more than a week without getting paid, recently quit his legislative seat of seven years to take the job paying $185,000 annually.
Authority Chairman Walter Ketcham came up with the plan that Precourt be hired on a temporary basis as a way to placate Ashton. He also said he was worried Precourt could sue the agency because it had promised him the job.
Precourt said during the meeting that he did not like Ketcham’s idea because it undermined his ability to lead and might not be accepted well in the financial community. The agency has more than $2 billion worth of debt on its 109-mile system.
FRESEN CASE COMES BEFORE THE ETHICS COMMISSION TODAY via Kathleen McGrory of the Miami Herald
Will (today) be the day the state Commission on Ethics ends its ongoing feud with state Rep. Erik Fresen?
The saga dates back to December 2012, when the commission determined that Fresen had failed to properly report his income and liabilities on his annual financial disclosure.
Fresen conceded there had been some mistakes and amended the forms.
But even after Fresen reached an agreement with ethics commission advocate Diane Guillemette in October, the commission wasn’t ready to move on.
The commissioners were irked that Fresen had never paid a $1,500 ethics fine assessed to him in 2003. (The penalthy was the result of his not filing a financial disclosure while working as a legislative aide the year before.)
Fresen said he had no knowledge of the fine until 2012, when was no longer required to pay.
Ethics commissioners wanted Fresen to cut a check as a show of “good faith.”
When he failed to pay by December, the commission rejected his stipulation with the chief advocate, and likened the situation to bank robbery.
Fresen’s attorney J.C. Planas and Guillemette will return to the commission on Friday with a revised version of the agreement. The new agreement will note Fresen’s refusal to pay the $1,500 fine, Planas said.
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MIKE HARIDOPOLOS’ LOBBYING MOVE GENERATES LITTLE MEDIA BUZZ
Apart from a paid release on SayfieReview.com, Mike Haridopolos’ new job has barely raised an eyebrow.
The Florida Times-Union‘s Matt Dixon posted a blurb on his blog, the AP’s Gary Fineout tweeted the news, too, and Sunshine State News ran an item repeating much of what was in the press release.
Comparatively, a few acres of forest were spent on paper following the launch of Dean Cannon’s firm (not to mention, a bill was passed and signed into law to make sure that others legislators didn’t follow suit.) Cannon’s firm, which has since added lobbyists Alan Suskey, Richard Reeves, and Rheb Harbison, continues to receive more than its fair share of press coverage.
Yet news of a former Senate President setting up shop on Adam Street generates nary a peep.
It would seem, even out of office, Cannon continues to upstage Haridopolos.
TWEET, TWEET: @hannaman00: Old news. Everyone assumed Hari joined that firm in ’11.
SPOTTED: Sally Bradshaw, in this smart dossier on Jeb Bush.
TODD THOMSON HANGS OUT A SHINGLE
Just this month, veteran Florida politico Todd Thomson opened FT2 Consulting. FT2 Consulting specializes in government and public relations, campaigns, lobbying and crisis communications. Thomson most recently served as BP’s Director of Government Relations in Florida where he successfully worked with federal, state and local officials in the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. thomson also previously served as Staff Director for the Redistricting Committee in the Florida House of Representatives during the 2002 reapportionment cycle. Thomson has extensive experience in Florida campaigns and has lobbied for business leaders AT&T and The Home Depot.
You can reach FT2 Consulting via email at ToddThomson12@me.com and follow FT2 Consulting on Twitter at @FT2Consult.
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CONTEXT FLORIDA: NEWSPAPERS, ANESTHESIA, RUNNING GROUPS AND “LAZY CLUTTER”
On Context Florida, a group of retired Miami Herald alumni reacts to the staff cuts and smaller readership as the newspaper business changes, writes Doug Clifton. Dr. Jay H. Epstein responds to Peter Schorsch’s post urging legislators to give nurse anesthetists the authority to administer anesthesia without the supervision of a doctor. There may be many reasons people run, but running solo has significant drawbacks, says Catherine Robinson. Everyone needs support, and joining a runners group is the best way to get feedback and learn tips to make the most out of your regimen. Clutter has crept into Rebekah McCloud’s life, although she is not sure exactly when it did.
Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: The Sarasota GOP’s Joe Gruters, Barry Edwards, the Tampa Tribune‘s William March, and the Tampa Bay Times‘ Amy Hollyfield.
Political Connections on Tampa Bay’s BayNews 9: State House District 68 candidate Joshua Black
Political Connections on Orlando’s CF 13: State House District 68 candidate Joshua Black
The Usual Suspects which airs on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Steve Vancore, Gary Yordon, and Mike Haridopolos.
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HAPPY BIRTHDAY this weekend to Sen. Aaron Bean and Gus Corbella.
TWEET, TWEET: @ppppolls: Jameis Winston’s favorability: 42/6 with African Americans, 11/10 with whites in Florida
UBER HAS CHANGED MY LIFE AND AS GOD IS MY WITNESS I WILL NEVER TAKE A TAXI AGAIN (WHERE AVAILABLE) via Jim Edwards of Business Insider magazine
Last weekend I stepped out of a taxi in front of my house and realized I just don’t have to put up with this garbage anymore. And now I’m done with taxis.
As long as cars are available on my Uber app — which connects limo drivers with customers based on a mapping and pricing algorithm that delivers rides that are often cheaper than metered taxis — I’m taking Uber instead.
Uber requires drivers to pass an orientation before they can start accepting fares. They can’t get through the orientation unless they can converse in English, a driver told me recently. And, of course, an Uber driver who can’t communicate will get low ratings from customers, and eventually be dropped from the system.
It requires drivers to have a car that is at least as modern as 2007. And it allows customers to choose the type of car they hail. It’s the opposite with regular taxis, where you get what you’re given. That’s why my awful taxi ride home was in a car you couldn’t sell on CraigsList, whereas Uber cars range from merely unremarkable — which is a good thing in taxi — to totally cool.
All Uber requires is a modern car and a clean record. Drivers get a simple cut of each fare. There is no $1 million entry fee that needs to be clawed back. And there is no car rental that needs to be earned before the driver makes any money.
But Uber has a surprise even for people who hate the surge: Uber Taxi. On the street in New York the other day, I hailed an Uber taxi, and a yellow cab picked me up, and charged me the regular rate in cash. It was actually an improvement on a regular yellow cab because instead of standing in the street and waving my arm like an idiot, he drove to me — Uber even makes hailing a cab easier! (During a New York winter this is not a trivial consideration.)